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Tackling the ‘spider’s web’ of legacy apps at Supercity

Tackling the ‘spider’s web’ of legacy apps at Supercity

The transition from eight separate ERP systems to a single SAP system has gone 'pretty well', says Mike Foley of Auckland Council.

Eight months after the formation of Auckland Council from the amalgamation of seven district councils and one regional council, the rates are being collected and employees and suppliers are being paid. Overall, the transition from eight separate ERP systems to a single SAP system has gone “pretty well”, says Mike Foley, information services manager.

“It’s been seven or eight months now and, touch wood, there have been no systems failures,” says Foley, who was named CIO of the Year in 2010 for his work as Watercare CIO.

However, while the vital finance and human resources systems are running smoothly, the IS team at Auckland Council is facing a huge consolidation task posed by a proliferation of legacy applications.

Last October, on the eve of taking up this position, Foley estimated there were 2500 unique applications running at the constituent councils. That estimate has now risen to 4000, along with evidence of unnecessary duplication of effort in some cases – the IS team has identified no less than 297 different asset management systems that are currently running.

“As we dig down, we find more and more applications. Every week the number seems to grow, but we can manage that. We’ll consolidate as much as we can as quickly as we can.”

Foley says the task of consolidation is not as straightforward as it might seem, because the applications rarely work in isolation. “A property management system might link into the GIS that might link into asset management or finance. What is more, each council can use completely different data structures. It is a bit of a spider’s web really.”

In some cases the IS team is constrained by legislative considerations. “The bylaws in Rodney were slightly different to those in Franklin for example, and that affects what we can do,” he says. “But it is up to the politicians to sort that out.”

Indeed, the council has attracted some criticism for shelling out $54 million on a new SAP system rather than expanding one of the existing council systems but, given the complexity of the project and short time frame, Foley is adamant there was no realistic alternative to a “green field” installation. “We had to meet that November 1 objective and we did. It worked and it continues to work.”

Foley says there is also scope for consolidation of infrastructure, in particular the legacy datacentres that are all still in operation.

Two datacentres are outsourced, North Shore City having partnered with Revera; and Manukau City with Datacom. Waitakere, Papakura, Franklin, Rodney and Auckland City ran their own datacentres while Auckland Regional Council maintained two facilities, one at Pitt Street in Auckland and one in association with TelstraClear.

“One of our datacentres located by the Civic Building dates back to the 1960s and asbestos has been found there,” says Foley. “Obviously we need to move that one as soon as we can.”

Foley admits to some trepidation at the prospect of moving datacentres and says the process will be managed very carefully. “We’ve started an RFI process, looking to see what the market has got before we decide whether or not to outsource, and we are looking at disaster recovery too. Our goal is to get down to two datacentres at the end of the day, but it is not something you can try before you buy.”

Now that operational stability has been achieved, Foley says a key goal over the next 12 to 18 months will be to achieve a consistency of service across the whole council. At present only some former council areas allow property owners to pay their rates online, for example.

“At the same time we’ll be standardising desktops, deciding whether we will use thin clients or fat clients, and in this age of consumer devices we have to think of iPads and smartphones and how do we accommodate those without compromising system integrity.”

The IS department will also be busy during the Rugby World Cup, providing connections to several council temporary operations centres as well as a “command centre” in Auckland CBD.

“It’s up to us to deliver the technology where and when they need it,” says Foley.

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Tags Mike FoleyRugby World Cup 2011new cioAuckland Councilmergerssupercity

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